Impressions of the Swiss Contemporary Dance Days 2015

Cover Image: Marco Berrettini, Marie-Caroline Hominal and Samuel Pajand in iFeel2. Photo by Marie Jeanson, sourced from the Swiss Dance Days website.

I attended the 10th Swiss Contemporary Dance Days held in Zurich from February 19 to 23, 2015. Held across four venues, the festival hub was Gessnerallee – and after spending a couple of days wondering what the iron troughs along the walls could possibly be – I realised we were in the stables! My time at the Swiss Dance Days came towards the end of two months of watching contemporary dance at Ignite! 2015 in New Delhi and the Attakkalari India Biennial in Bangalore. During this time, I was preoccupied by several thoughts about the nature and particularly, the intent of dance making. In Zurich, a common strand (which I was delighted by) running through the work was that dance technique and conceptual layers didn’t necessarily seem to be treated as oppositional ideas, where one could only be played up to the detriment of the other.

The very first piece I saw, Yasmine Hugonnet’s Le Recital des Postures, imagined the choreography – in this case a fluid set of postures – as a score of notes played by an instrument – the human body. Given that her piece leaves a lot to the spectator’s imagination, how does she perceive movement? Later, during a conversation, she spoke of trying to create movement within a set of practices that emerge from the idea of treating the body as an instrument.

Yasmine Hugonnet

(Photo by Anne Laure Lechat, sourced from

The next day, in Compagnie Nuna/ Young-Soon Cho Jaquet’s Les Animaux, made with a cast of 7 dancers and 13 amateurs/ non-dancers picked within the city she performs in, I struggled to engage with the dancers but was riveted by the sight of 13 people simply walking on stage in straight lines. Incidentally, the most striking element of the piece (for me) was something the choreographer didn’t intend. There was something stunning about the dissonance of the physical projections of the ‘non-dancers’. Each of them had a very particular way of standing and looking out at the audience, and engaged me much more than the frenetic dancing bodies around them. The question her piece gave rise to was – what different reasons might make choreographers want to work with non-dancers, and are there ways of working (and should there be ways) that go beyond being representational or decorative?

The following morning, I went on an awesome boat journey down the lake in Zurich. The organisers put artists, curators and producers in the same boat (pun fully intended) and over three hours, you just ended up speaking to everyone you bumped into. And the few times I stepped out to look outside the boat, the view was splendid!

That evening, I watched the company Alias (helmed by Guilherme Botelho) perform Antes, the final part of a trilogy on the history of humankind and individual and collective destiny. I found a seat in the front row, and the piece was performed by 12 nude dancers. About a minute into the hourlong piece, I had forgotten what its conceptual motivations were. But as a piece of physical, visceral performance, Antes was spellbinding. It left me with the feeling that the body has so much more to tell us, that it has not exhausted its possibilities. This is where the question of nudity takes centrestage. Could one ever watch Antes in India? Covering or masking the body would obscure the specificity of movement that the choreographer draws our attention to.

There are many potential areas of movement research and practice within the Indian context that Swiss artists could engage with. For instance, what is the Swiss choreographer’s relationship to form within a contemporary practice? Also, how does one negotiate technology in performance – not just understanding it as an additional layer, but, with increasing frequency, as an extension of the body itself? Watching Nicole Seiler’s Shiver foregrounded this thought. There is something very menacing about the cool, calm voice that describes an unknown being lurking somewhere just beyond the audience’s consciousness. The dancers are cloaked by elaborate video projections that make them seem amorphous and sometimes invisible. And when you do see their faces, they could be characters out of a ghost town – clinking chains, winding an object or running a calculated finger around the rim of a stem glass.

I must end with *MELK PROD/ Marco Berrettini’s iFeel2, a piece that revealed its hypnotic marvels to me long after I left the theatre. It made me reconsider what performance can do to me, how it can do that, and when. Over 70 minutes, two dancers (Marco Berrettini and Marie-Caroline Hominal) perform the same foxtrot step over and over again, directing their energies at each other. It begins to feel like a bit of a swindle around the 23rd minute. It annoys you. But once the performance has ended, the piece refuses to retreat to a quiet corner of the brain. With a fascination that is nearly morbid, I watched the entire piece again, on video. Would I watch it again? You bet.

My visit to the Swiss Dance Days was supported by Pro Helvetia – Swiss Arts Council.

2 responses to “Impressions of the Swiss Contemporary Dance Days 2015

  1. Young-Soon Cho Jaquet’s Les Animaux : “Incidentally, the most striking element of the piece (for me) was something the choreographer didn’t intend.”
    You really need to check the rest of her work. Didn’t intend is a false assumption.

    • Thank you for your comment. When I spoke to Young-Soon Cho Jaquet on the boat, she described her workshop process with the non-dancers and how she had to train them hard to have a uniform presence on stage. Watching the piece, it showed that they had been through a process but there were still moments of dissonance that I read in the work, which I understood as coming from the non-dancers’ personalities and not from choreographic intention or instruction, based on my conversation with the choreographer. And indeed that was the most stunning thing about the work at times.

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